Sources say Zweli Mkhize is considering resigning over Digital Vibes scandal
Gwen Ramokgopa, who was formerly in charge of health in Gauteng, is a favourite to succeed Mkhize as minister, the people say
Health Minister Zweli Mkhize is considering resigning over an investigation into a tendering scandal, according to two people familiar with the matter.
President Cyril Ramaphosa discussed three options with Mkhize, including that he be moved out of the cabinet in a reshuffle or that he voluntarily step aside temporarily while the probe continues, said one of the people who asked not to be identified because they are not authorised to speak about the matter. The third option is that Mkhize quit, the person said.
Mkhize did not answer calls or respond to a request for comment sent by cellphone. Health ministry spokesperson Lwazi Manzi did not respond to requests for comment sent by text message, and presidency spokesperson Tyrone Seale declined to comment.
The departure of Mkhize, whose name has been mentioned as a potential successor to Ramaphosa, would leave the president with two crucial vacancies in his cabinet, the other being that of minister in the presidency. There has been speculation for the past year that a cabinet change is imminent. Ramaphosa said on Thursday he would make an announcement only when he saw fit.
Gwen Ramokgopa, a former Gauteng health MEC, is a favourite to succeed Mkhize as minister, the people said. An ally of Ramaphosa, Ramokgopa was last month elected to the ruling party’s National Working Committee.
Mkhize has been under scrutiny after the health department awarded a R150m contract to Digital Vibes, a company controlled by two of Mkhize’s former aides, to help communicate the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. The money was largely wasted and proper procurement processes were not followed, news website Daily Maverick reported.
The Special Investigative Unit is probing the matter. On May 26 Mkhize told reporters the deal was irregular and disciplinary action would be taken against those responsible. While describing public outrage as “justified,” he denied playing any role in the contract award or that he was friends with the people working there.
The SIU plans to complete its investigation in June, the SABC reported on Thursday.
Mkhize has spearheaded SA’s coronavirus response and initially won widespread praise for his sombre approach toward tackling the pandemic. He contracted Covid-19 as he crisscrossed the country to assess the state of the health system and made scores of public appearances to educate people about the disease.
His star waned somewhat as infections skyrocketed with more than 1.6-million confirmed cases so far. The government was also slow off the mark to begin administering vaccines, in part because of protracted wrangling with suppliers over contractual terms.
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